Monday, December 28, 2009

Congressmen on NK, Kirk to Senate, Chevron v. Armenians, Biden in Georgia

This was first published in July 25, 2009 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Members of Congress reiterate support for Armenia, Karabakh

Four key congressional supporters of Armenian-American issues released a joint statement denouncing Azerbaijan's threatening rhetoric and reiterating support for Karabakh peace.

Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D.-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.), Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), and George Radanovich (R.-Calif.) said in a July 23 joint statement that "Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's bellicose statements undermine [the Karabakh peace] process."

Last month Mr. Aliyev boasted that his country had spent $6.5 billion on its military over the last five years, including $2 billion planned for 2009; earlier this month he again threatened military action against Armenia and Karabakh.

"We stand in strong support of the people of Nagorno Karabakh's right to decide their own future," the members of Congress went on to say in their statement. "The citizens of Nagorno Karabakh have remained committed to respecting human rights and democracy and have made significant progress toward peace and prosperity. No solution is possible without Nagorno Karabakh's consent."

Meanwhile, an Azerbaijani news agency quoted Ambassador Yuri Merzlyakov, the Russian mediator for the Karabakh talks, as saying on July 22 that both he and his U.S. counterpart Matt Bryza are likely to be replaced in the coming months.

Mr. Bryza, who was not available for comment at press time, has been rumored as a potential nominee for U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan.

Congressional Armenian Caucus co-chair to run for Senate

Rep. Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.) who last January became co-chair of the congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues will run for the U.S. Senate, he announced on July 20.

In the 2010 congressional elections, Mr. Kirk will be running for the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he was elected president. The seat is currently held by a temporary appointee of the former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. That appointment was preceded by a national scandal when wiretaps of Gov. Blagojevich allegedly scheming to sell the vacant seat were made public by prosecutors.

In his announcement, Mr. Kirk pledged to make "ethics" and "integrity," along with economy and foreign wars, centerpieces of his campaign. According to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), Mr. Kirk also thanked Armenian-Americans for their support during his service in Congress.

Mr. Kirk was first elected to Congress in 2000 with the ANCA's endorsement. Earlier in his political career, he was a senior staff member for Rep. John Porter (R.-Ill.) who was founding co-chair of the Armenian Caucus in 1995. A Navy veteran, Mr. Kirk has also worked in the World Bank, the State Department, and private legal practice.

As a member of the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Mr. Kirk supported increasing aid levels to Armenia and Karabakh. Earlier this year, he became one of four original co-sponsors of the latest congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide.

During his nearly one decade in Congress, Mr. Kirk has also been a proponent of U.S. support for Albania and Georgia, and took a keen interest in U.S. policy toward Iran, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

Chevron lobbied against Genocide resolution as it sought Turkey oil concession

A major U.S. oil company engaged in lobbying against a congressional resolution that affirms the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide as it negotiated to win an oil concession in Turkey.

"As a major energy producer in the region, we support the integrity of multiple energy transportation routes and a diplomatic relationship between Turkey and Armenia," Chevron spokesperson Justin Higgs was quoted by the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) as saying, adding that the Genocide resolution, "would have hurt, not helped, relations between Turkey and Armenia."

The statement came as the AYF, the youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, launched a nationwide campaign calling attention to the lobbying.

While Chevron is not directly involved in Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, the region's major oil pipeline, the company has recently received Turkish government permission to prospect for oil near the country's border with Iraq.

According to its formal disclosure, Chevron's lobbying efforts coincided with its negotiations with the Turkish state company for the concession.

The Associated Press reported last month that Chevron was among the U.S. companies that paid for lobbying against the resolution. Other companies involved were manufacturers of weapons systems BAE Systems Inc., Goodrich Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., Raytheon Co., and United Technologies Corp. connect:

U.S. pledges continued military support for Georgia

Vice President Joe Biden toured Ukraine and Georgia this week in a visit that sought to underscore U.S. support for the two countries after President Barack Obama, on a visit to Moscow earlier this month, had declared a new, more cooperative stage in relations with Russia.

In a speech to the Georgian parliament on July 23, Mr. Biden said that the United States "fully supports" Georgia's desire to join NATO and will continue to provide military aid to the country; both are policies that Russia has publicly protested. The vice president's visit was preceded by U.S.-Georgian naval exercises in the Black Sea.

Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili told the Washington Post on July 21 that he expected the United States to supply Georgia with advanced defensive weapons, but that delivery was taking a long time.

"We want the country to still be around when those things start to arrive here," he said.

Separately, on July 20 the Wall Street Journal quoted Mr. Saakashvili as saying that his hopes of Georgia joining NATO are "almost dead. It's tragic. If they manage to kill [Georgia's hopes of joining] NATO it means the Russians fought for the right reasons."

According to news reports, Mr. Biden received a warm welcome in Tbilisi. President George W. Bush Street, which links the capital Tbilisi with its airport, was lined with people waving American flags and appealing for U.S. help; the vice president was awarded Georgia's highest state order.

According to media reports at the time, it was Mr. Biden, as chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who first made the suggestion to provide Georgia with $1 billion in U.S. aid in the aftermath of the Russian military intervention that followed Georgia's failed bid to regain control of South Ossetia.

In his parliamentary speech, Mr. Biden recalled his visit to Tbilisi last year and the pledge he made to support Georgia while he "sat on a rooftop of a restaurant with President Saakashvili, as the sound of artillery fire and fighter aircraft punctuated the night."

Mr. Biden visited Georgia on August 17 nearly a week after major fighting in Georgia had ended.

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